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Article by David Burrows, Director of Workforce Planning, Faethm

The news agenda has been saturated with stories about the future of work in recent times.

Whether it’s ‘hybrid’ working, machines taking jobs or the growing talent shortage in various industries, discussions about how work will change and the likely impact of emerging technology on skills have become a mainstay in the media.

Generally, its use of the term ‘future of work’ is somewhat misleading. Why? It fails to account for the fact that technologies such as automation and AI are already a huge part of our working lives. Rather than viewing work as having scheduled points of change in the future, we should acknowledge the fact that these changes are happening around us every day.

Acknowledging this also means recognising the issues that the emergence of such technology presents to employees and employers. Both are dealing with a host of new challenges due to the integration of automation and AI into the workplace, with a dearth in skills meaning many businesses are struggling to fill new, technologically focused roles.

If they don’t respond adequately to these issues, a possible employment crisis looms. That’s why organisations must take steps to intelligently plan their workforce’s development, and ensure their strategies are focused on aligning the anticipated skills of their workforce with future demand.

Building a solid foundation

Before getting started with strategic workforce planning (SWP), you must make sure your approach will deliver on its purpose – planning the transition of your current workforce to one that will deliver your future business strategy. That means challenging several misconceptions.

Remember SWP is not solely an HR initiative, either. HR teams generally own the workforce planning programme but will only be successful with strong collaboration from business leaders and key stakeholders from functions across the business.

It also mustn’t be seen as a one-time process or project. Maintaining an effective workforce that derives maximum business value from resources, including technology, requires you to run an evolving programme, one that requires constant validation that assumptions are relevant and monitoring of progress to the plan.

Try not to be overwhelmed. Workforce planning seems daunting at the outset, but can be managed by breaking it down and prioritising through targeted pilots. This approach can also make your SP process more easily measurable and help iron out glitches before you expand your programme.

A six-step framework for SWP success

On top of the above, you must also ensure your senior leaders are clear on the goal of the process: the development of evidence-based plans for the workforce that will help your business achieve corporate goals by using available resources to their fullest capacity, and bolstering them with key new recruits in specialist areas if those skillsets aren’t available.

Once you’ve got senior buy-in on the strategic importance of data-driven workforce planning, you should aim to follow this six-step framework to make it an enduring success:

  1. Establish your programme of work

To set yourself up for success, you need the right skills and support for your SWP programme, ensuring you have access to specialist areas like talent acquisition, organisational design, and learning. The programme lead will also need strong collaboration and communication skills to ensure the key stakeholders in the business are engaged and supportive.

Collating the data on your workforce is also a complex but crucial first step. It can be done directly by HR teams, but it can be difficult and labour-intensive to get an accurate picture of the tasks employees fulfil, the technologies they use and their skills. It’s worth deploying analytics platforms that automatically associate skills and capabilities with tasks in your business, and give you a current, detailed view of jobs.

  1. Review your business strategy

Speak with senior leaders to identify what strategies are in place that will drive your business forward, and how this could impact your workforce in future. From there, you should work alongside business unit leaders to assess the strategic implications for the workforce in detail to identify which roles they will need to achieve those goals.

  1. Compare talent supply to demand

Assess how your internal talent might be affected over time by events such as attrition, retirement, planned redundancy and the introduction of new technologies. This should highlight which skills, knowledge, and capabilities you can expect to have available to support your organisation’s business strategy. Once you understand your supply, assess the demand for skills, knowledge, and capabilities your business strategies indicate you will need in order to deliver on corporate goals. Analytics tools are invaluable in surfacing this insight and will help deliver a clear understanding of which roles your organisation will need more, or less of, to deliver your strategy.

  1. Pinpoint skills gaps

You can now anticipate talent surpluses and shortages and when they will take effect. From here you should evaluate the risk to business efficacy if left unaddressed. Remember, external availability and competition for talent is a major factor – always look specifically at the gaps and consider the resources needed to resolve this internally, such as reskilling surplus employees from other roles.

  1. Develop a plan for transitioning your workforce

Instil these insights into a workforce plan which addresses capability gaps and mitigates risks on a role-by-role basis. Validate this plan with key business stakeholders, including the senior leadership team, and formulate effective measures and timelines for progress.

  1. Continually execute and review your plan

Implement the strategy you have devised but revisit and refresh it regularly, so you are prepared to adapt as business needs change and new tools are deployed.

What to take away

First and foremost, don’t leave anyone behind! Employees who represent company values and strive for success on the business’ behalf shouldn’t be forgotten. It’s your responsibility as an employer to ensure everyone has their role reviewed and a plan developed so they maintain a serviceable skill set.

This approach helps you build career pathways for employees and retain talent, which is important for generating and retaining business-specific knowledge.

We know recruitment and redundancy are two significant costs relating to workforce management, so it’s always advisable to consider redeployment before other approaches. The opportunity to reduce costs while also freeing up potential budget for improved learning and re-skilling programmes should allow you enrich and grow your workforce even further.

Ultimately, intelligent insights are the most critical ingredient to informing what your workforce strategy should look like. Adding a data-driven element to workforce planning and decision-making allows you to futureproof your workforce with the talent to achieve its goals, while continuing to deliver for customers. The numbers really do add up.

It also makes sense on a people level, too. Investing in the future of employees and offering them opportunities to develop and improve their potential means you can build a skilled group of invested stakeholders in the business who have no reason to leave. It’s that simple.

Astute businesses are already taking steps to make sure they are prepared for the technology-driven requirements of work, now and in the future. Make sure you do the same.